Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Verbs in English can be divided into two groups:

Transitive verbs and Intransitive verbs.

TRANSITIVE VERBS

Transitive verbs require an object to complete their meaning.

Imagine that I say:

  • I need.

This sentence is incomplete. There is information that is missing.

You are probably wondering what I need.

Why is this sentence incomplete?

Because NEED is a transitive verb and a transitive verb needs an object after it to complete the sentence. The object after a transitive verb can be a noun or a pronoun.

  • I need a dictionary.

Now the sentence is complete and we can understand it. We added the object “a dictionary” after the verb.

Subject + transitive verb + object

So we can see that transitive verbs need an object after them.

Transitive Phrasal Verbs

The same rule applies to transitive phrasal verbs.

If someone says: “I’m looking for”

You would automatically think “Looking for what? Looking for whom?”

  • I am looking for my keys.

My keys is the object (that you are looking for). Now the sentence is clear.

We need to add an object to make the sentence complete.

More examples of transitive phrasal verbs in sentences:

  • He’s looking for his passport.
  • You should put on a jacket because it’s cold outside.
  • Please take off your shoes before entering the house.

We will see more about the position of objects with phrasal verbs in another lesson.

INTRANSITIVE VERBS

Intransitive verbs cannot have a direct object after them.

The subject is doing the action of the verb and nothing receives the action. An intransitive verb does not pass the action to an object.

  • We smiled.

Here we cannot have an object after the intransitive verb smile.

You cannot “smile something” (incorrect).

An intransitive verb expresses an action that is complete in itself and it doesn’t need an object to receive the action.

Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

The same rule applies to intransitive phrasal verbs. You cannot have an object after an intransitive phrasal verb.

  • I get up at 7 every morning.

You cannot “get up something”. Get up is an intransitive phrasal verb.

  • Can you sit down please?

You cannot “sit down something”.

  • I grew up in New Zealand.
  • My car broke down
  • You are driving too fast. Can you slow down?
  • We should dress up for the party.
  • Nobody found out that I didn’t have an invitation.
  • If you turn around, you will see your friend.

Phrasal Verbs that are Transitive and Intransitive

Some phrasal verbs can be both transitive and intransitive.

They can be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another sentence.

You need to be careful. Sometimes the meaning of a phrasal verb changes depending on whether it is transitive or intransitive. Let’s look at the following example:

Take off (transitive) = to remove something

Take off (intransitive) = to leave the ground and begin to fly

  • Please take off your shoes before entering the house. (transitive)
  • The plane will take off in ten minutes. (intransitive)

You can see that here, there are two different meanings (or uses) of “Take off”. When take off is transitive it means to remove something (that something is an object). When take off doesn’t have an object after it, it is intransitive and can mean to leave the ground.

Also note that the same phrasal verb, for example take off, can have more than one meaning (yes, even 7 or 8 different meanings).

A good dictionary will tell you whether a verb is transitive (usually vt. or tr. next to the verb in dictionaries) or intransitive (vi. or intr.)

Summary Chart

The difference between TRANSITIVE and INTRANSITIVE verbs in English.

Lesson tags: Intransitive, Phrasal Verbs, Transitive, Verbs
Back to: Phrasal Verbs > Phrasal Verbs Introduction